Sarah Wiener, class of 2021, recently announced her candidacy for 2020–21 TCU President. She’s running on a platform that aims to increase communication lines between students and the Tufts administration.
“It all relates to a focus on accurate, fair, transparent representation of student voices, and [the TCU Senate] being a mechanism and instrument for student activism,” Wiener said.
Weiner has seen firsthand what happens when the administration is not transparent or responsive to student needs and identified obstacles that limit productive conversations.
“There are insufficient mechanisms. There’s no precedent really for student voice to be heard regularly and consistently and with sufficient force, so the administration gets to perpetuate this [system],” she said. “Students get frustrated or distrustful of administration and student leadership, or feel like those bodies aren’t there to support student voice, and then there’s less willingness to share.”
In addition to this overarching goal, Wiener also advocates for specific, pragmatic aims.
She cares deeply about accessibility; having worked as a tour guide while on crutches her first year on campus, Wiener recognizes the many impediments that students can face attending college on a hill with only one universally accessible elevator in Dowling Hall. She champions increasing support for Counseling and Mental Health Service, and hopes to make its services more available to students.
Wiener is also focusing her campaign on sustainability.
“It is difficult to have conversations about divesting from fossil fuels in the endowment, even though long-term it seems the most economically feasible to switch to renewable energy investment now because obviously the whole point of non-renewable resources that they’re not renewable, in addition to it being a moral obligation to the community,” Wiener said.
Yet she still sees these other components of her platform as relating to the overall theme.
“It’s about the importance of student voice, and the administration and Board of Trustees being transparent about how much they listen to student voice and being accountable for listening to it,” she said.
Wiener’s advocacy for an increase in student voice in the administration stems from her past experiences in Senate.
During her first year, Tufts Republicans asked Senate to help pay the speaker fees for conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro to come to campus to speak. The request sparked a fierce debate about the role and impact of the TCU Senate.
“There were a lot of conversations happening on Senate about, ‘what is Senate’s bigger picture role? Are we dispensing money that is a confirmation of university support for things when we make budgets? Are we endorsing Ben Shapiro if he were to come to campus?’” Wiener said.
The ensuing conversations within the Senate excited Wiener, as she was a part of crafting answers to these difficult questions. The experience also opened her eyes to the impact of having a student voice.
“That was the first time that I really considered what I thought Senate was and should be,” Wiener said. “I think that’s also part of how I came to the conclusion that [amplifying] student voice and Senate as a form of student activism is the proper role for Senate to have.”
A philosophy and political science double major with a minor in colonialism studies, Wiener is originally from Denver, Colo. Her passion for student representation began in high school. Wiener attended a public high school with an International Baccalaureate (IB) program, a program that began in the 1970s as a way to keep the school segregated during the time of desegregation.
“The programs became really segregated and stayed that way ever since,” Wiener said. “The rest of the school would underperform so much because the resources weren’t being delegated there, and it just kind of evolved and evolved and evolved to such disparity from the cumulative disadvantage over time of what was called the ‘traditional school’ versus the IB honors program.”
In her first and second years of high school, students began to point out the inequities and lobbied for some of the criteria for entrance to the IB program to be removed. However, they faced backlash from parents and school officials.
“Students were the ones that could be empathetic to each other and understood their own needs and understood the implications of those decisions, but they weren’t being fairly represented,” Wiener said.
When she got to Tufts and heard about the role and duties of Senate, Wiener was eager to participate.
“There were critical voices that were having conversations about their experiences and their power to change student voice representation at Tufts, was really exciting. So I joined Senate right away,” she said.
After serving as a Class of 2021 Senator her first year, Wiener assumed the role of Chair of the Administration and Policy Committee as a sophomore. Wiener appreciated the widespread impact of that committee.
“I instituted a lot of organizational change within the committee that I think was really productive and has facilitated better practices on Senate since then,” she said.
During her time as chair, the Administration and Policy Committee wrote several op-eds, lobbied for a new residence hall to be built and advocated for the creation of a new position for recent graduates within the Board of Trustees’ advisory committee. Wiener attributes the committee’s accomplishments partially to the implementation of new practices to make the committee more efficient.
“One really fruitful thing that came from me being on the administration policy committee was that every meeting had notes, there were action items every week and I think it led to us being really productive,” Wiener said.
Now that she is running for TCU president, Wiener hopes to apply the implementation of new, efficient practices on a broader scale. She hopes these practices can be utilized on issues such as sustainability and accessibility. Additionally, Wiener believes formal policies can increase productive communication between students and the administration.
“All of these problems have been easier to ignore or not take seriously because there’s not this constant pressure and there are not the mechanisms there to cause the pressure in a formal way that the university higher-ups are accountable for answering,” she said.
For people who are interested in learning more about Wiener’s platform, she has launched a website and a Facebook page. In the coming weeks, Wiener will also be hosting several virtual events on Zoom and Facebook Live where Tufts students can pose questions and hear more about what she stands for.
One event, scheduled for Wednesday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. EDT, is called Wings with Wiener, based on the popular YouTube interview show “Hot Ones” (2015–).
“My brother and I have a bunch of hot sauces and vegetarian chicken wings, and I have a set of ten progressively spicier questions prepared and will be eating ten progressively spicier hot wings,” she said.
Throughout all of the events, Wiener will continue to emphasize her aim of increasing the impact of student’s voice.
“Senate’s responsibility is to the students and that purpose is only fulfilled if we can accurately represent students,” Wiener said.